Fibromyalgia. FMS. It’s a mysterious malady.
Researchers and other experts in health care have described it as:
- a “rheumatic” musculo-skeletal condition;
- a condition of the nervous system related to abnormal pain perception;
- an auto-immune disorder;
- an aspect of post-traumatic stress disorder;
- physical symptoms of depression.
It is referred to as a syndrome or condition rather than a disease because the symptoms vary widely. Some medical professionals dispute that it is an illness but as research has begun to pinpoint measurable abnormalities in people with fibromyalgia, that opinion is becoming one of a minority.
What It Feels Like
Imagine having a bad case of the flu, all the time, and you’ll be getting a rough idea of what the experience of fibromyalgia is like. The main symptoms are widespread pain throughout the body, extreme fatigue, poor/non-restorative sleep. These are the “keynote” symptoms found in all cases of fibromyalgia.
But it doesn’t stop with just these. Other symptoms that are commonly experienced include:
- conditions of mood such as depression and/or anxiety
- numbness, tingling, or burning sensations
- irritable bowel syndrome
- restless leg syndrome
- headaches, migraines, jaw pain
- dry eyes, dry mouth
- heightened sensitivity to EVERYTHING (odours, lights, noises, medications, touch)
- dizziness, balance problems
- difficulty with concentration and memory
- painful menstruation
Some people experience the first onset of symptoms in childhood but most start to experience it as adults. Women are more likely to be affected than men.
The symptoms may not be constant. Some symptoms may be present most of the time and others only occasionally. Many people feel “normal” for periods of time with occasional “flares” of their fibromyalgia symptoms.
Flares or a worsening of symptoms may be brought on by such things as stress, tiredness due to reduced hours of sleep, infectious illnesses such as colds, and changes in air pressure or temperature.
Currently, diagnosis is made primarily on the basis of a person’s medical history (personal and family) and a physical exam. There are no tests that will definitely confirm fibromyalgia, but tests may be ordered to rule out other illnesses that also have pain and fatigue as their major symptoms.
The main form of conventional medical treatment is the use of medications that modify the levels of certain brain chemicals (neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin).
LIfestyle factors (daily routines) are extremely important for people with fibromyalgia, especially with respect to rest and activity. Going to bed and getting up at consistent times, along with regular exercise, help to moderate pain and fatigue.
The muscle pain and stiffness are generally responsive to treatment with heat. Hot baths, hot packs and heating pads are very soothing.
People often live with fibromyalgia for a long time prior to diagnosis. Because fibromyalgia is a diagnosis of exclusion, it may be misdiagnosed or it may just take time to rule out all the other potential causes of a person’s symptoms. One thing it is not is “all in your head”.
Recent research has begun to outline what is going wrong with the body chemistry of people with fibromyalgia. This will eventually point the way to an effective treatment. In the meantime, consider using both conventional and natural means to manage your symptoms.
You CAN live a comfortable, productive life with fibromyalgia. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts to guide you.
- Don’t allow yourself to become discouraged.
- Don’t participate in support groups where people spend most of their time complaining about how they feel.
- Stick to health-supporting routines as much as possible.
- Do everything you can to optimize the quantity and quality of your sleep.
- Contact me to discuss supplementation.